Glenn Beck Cost Fox Millions and Lost Half His Audience, but News Corp. Stands Behind Him

Last Updated Jul 6, 2010 6:18 PM EDT

Glenn Beck has lost half the TV audience for his Fox News Channel show, and 15 of his 27 current ad slots are taken either by house ads for News Corp. (NWS) properties or non-profit concerns. Taken together, it is likely that Fox has taken a huge financial hit from the advertiser boycott of Beck. More than 100 companies have said they will not advertise on Beck's show after he said President Obama was "a racist," and later compared the president to a Nazi.

There are two surprising things here: First, corporate America's commercials have not slowly trickled back to Beck's show now that the fuss has died down (the scandal broke nearly a year ago). And second, it's also a testament to how stubborn the News Corp. management culture is: They just don't give in, even though at this point standing by Beck must have cost them millions of dollars. Clearly, this is important to them.

On MediaMatters' current ad roster for Beck:
  • Beck's show had 27 ad slots in total.
  • Nine were "house" ads for other News properties, and thus did not generate revenue for News.
  • Six were ads for non-profit organizations, and were unlikely to have been sold at full price.
One of the remaining 12 fully paid ads was for Nestle (NESN.VX)'s Purina cat food. Nestle has previously said it supports the boycott and that its ads only appeared on Beck by mistake. That suggests Fox won't get paid for running the spot; or that Nestle has caved; or -- and this would be controversial -- Fox is deliberately running ads from big corporations by "mistake" to make Beck look safe for other companies to return.

Such appearances are crucial. For some brands, the "environment" is as important as the gross ratings points. And the current ad environment on Beck is populated by C-list brands such as Zoosk.com, Hydroxatone, and Tax Masters.

At one time, the boycott seemed irrelevant because Beck had such a massive audience for his daytime show, 3 million people. Now he has only about 1.4 million, according to Nielsen. (Most recent numbers: 1.5 million.) So the show's financial troubles are compounded: In addition to not selling enough full-price inventory to fill out the show, each individual slot is worth less because it delivers fewer ratings points.

Why does News persist? Although Beck still gets nearly triple the viewers of his competitors, it is not likely that Fox is standing behind him for business reasons. It would be much more lucrative for CEO Rupert Murdoch to demand that Beck apologize and move on. Then Nestle et al. could come back and everything would return to normal. Rather, this is as another case in which News is cutting off its nose to spite its face. Murdoch believes Beck is "right," and he seems to be insisting that he's not going to let liberal boycotts or his sympathetic clients push him around.

News has a history of this: It engaged in a suicidal civil war over supermarket advertising that cost the company $500 million, and it still hasn't settled the last of that litigation. The manager responsible for those losses -- News America Marketing CEO and New York Post publisher Paul Carlucci -- remains in his position as if he'd done nothing wrong.

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